Caustic and funny in equal parts, Taylor Mac’s “Hir” doesn’t bend gender as much as stab it to death with blunt barbs. In a Simpatico Theatre production that opened over the weekend, “Hir” is also forceful, with a four-person cast that shines amid the characters’ absurdities.
You don’t have to go too far into “Hir” to discover its weird sensibility: The first minute of the show will do, when the lights come up on Christopher Haig’s set with clothes strewn all over the place and furniture that appears to come from a third-generation yard sale. In this junky house – we see the living room and the kitchen — there’s so much piled against the inside of the front door that Isaac (Kevin Meehan, in a standout display of bewilderment) can’t get in. He has to enter through the back door in order to make his first appearance home after three years of picking up body parts in his wartime job in the Mideast.
Here’s what he sees: A mother (the fabulous Marcia Saunders) who declares “We don’t do order!” and crushes a slurry of pills and estrogen in a blender for her stroke-addled husband (John Morrison, fully into the part), whom she despises for his formerly uber-male characteristics. Isaac can’t believe what she’s done to his dad. The man sits in a drooling position at a cardboard box, is dressed in a women’s nightie and wears a clown wig and overdone rouge (Levonne Lindsay’s costumes).
But this homecoming’s not yet complete. Where is Isaac’s sister? “Max!” his mother hollers, “come in here and explain your ambiguity to your bother!” Eventually Max does. She is now a trans-gender he, on heavy doses of testosterone and insisting on the linguistic trappings of gender neutrality. In this household, he and she will now be ze. And him and her will be hir.
Max is played by Eppchez!, the exclamation point being part of the name. The actor is self-described on the Web as a “Quaker, ungender, Latinex artist and activist.” Eppchez! had me glued to every eye-roll and move, first for the gender switch the performance perfectly exploits in the service of “Hir,” but then for the way it captures the rich contradictions of a teenager who’s always trying on new ideas.
“Hir” is directed by Jarrod Markman, who clearly had choices; you could read the script in different ways, each eliciting distinct reactions. Markman chooses a storytelling that makes the play funny, sad and angry all at once – you may be laughing one moment, then zapped by some strange avowal the next. However you react, you can’t help but wonder what will happen next.
The storyline has a traditional arc that carries it swiftly through what seem like bizarre notions at first but, remarkably, become more understandable as “Hir” unfolds. Poor Isaac, for his part, can’t buy into it – he wants everything back to the way it was when he left home to join the military. But the choices he made overseas changed his life, too, and he can’t rewind the clock for himself. Everyone here is caught up in sweeping, unpredictable change. The eccentric quality of “Hir” makes it unusual but its passion for ideas keeps it grounded. It’s a refreshing piece of theater and at Simpatico, a rousing production.
—“Hir,” produced by Simpatico Theatre, runs through June 25 at the Bluver Theatre to the side of the Drake, on Spruce Street between 15th and 16th Streets. simpaticotheatre.org.